Welcome to our ultimate beginners running guide. If you have never run before, or haven’t run for a long time, then this article is for you and tells you everything you need to know!
This guide explains the benefits of running, how to start running, tips to help you get started with running, and how you can train to run 5k non-stop with our tried-and-tested couch to 5k beginner runner’s training plan.
Our beginner’s running plan has specifically been designed for people who are completely new to running, and will help you go from never running before to running confidently for more than three miles in one go!
Before we get started, thank you to Nike for sponsoring this beginner’s guide to running.
In many of the images throughout this article I’m wearing the Nike Invincible 3 running shoes, which are an excellent choice of running shoes for beginners who plan to increase their mileage over time due to their extreme cushioning and support!
These Nike Invincible 3 shoes are also incredibly fun to run in due to the bounce and energy return from their ZoomX midsole.
The benefits of running
Whether you want to run to help lose weight or simply want to diversify your fitness activities, starting a regular new running habit has many mental and physical health benefits to offer.
It’s also highly accessible, as you don’t require any fancy equipment to be able to run, aside from a good pair of running shoes.
It’s also relatively easy for most runners to find somewhere to run safely, even if it’s a short distance or loop that you can repeat to increase how far you go.
You can expect running to benefit you physically as it has been proven to help people lose weight, reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular fitness, bone density and joint stability, as well as develop your overall physical strength.
The mental benefits of running are perhaps even more compelling that the list of physical health benefits.
It’s well-known that running (as well as other forms of exercise) encourages your body to release feel-good endorphins – I mean, everyone’s heard of the ‘runner’s high’, and it’s a real thing.
As a result, many runners run to improve their mood, reduce stress levels, connect with nature and get some natural vitamin D exposure from being out in daylight.
Learning to run and achieving new goals can also work wonders for your confidence.
Becoming a runner can not only be transformational for you physically and fitness-wise; it can also transform your self-confidence and outlook on life and help you be more mentally prepared to handle life’s other challenges.
How to start running
Here are the 4 things you should do before you start to work on your new running habit.
1. Invest in running shoes and essential gear
The first step is to invest in a good pair of running shoes and some basic running gear that will help you be comfortable and enjoy developing your running routine.
Get a quality pair of running shoes
Running shoes have a different design from casual lifestyle sneakers and will help support your feet and body as you run, reducing the impact on your body. So, if you only buy one piece of running gear, make sure it’s some well-fitting footwear from a good running shoe brand.
Nike recently launched the ultra-comfortable and cushioned Invincible 3 men’s and women’s running shoes, which make every run super springy and bouncy. These shoes are a great choice for road running if you want a high level of cushioning and some extra spring in your (running) step!
For more advice on finding a great pair of running shoes, visit our guide to the best running shoes.
Don’t forget the importance of proper running socks
Often overlooked, your running socks are almost as important as your running shoes.
Don’t wear your regular everyday cotton socks – there is no faster way to foot discomfort and blisters than wearing socks that aren’t fitted or made of the right sweat-wicking material suitable for running in.
Any of the running socks featured in our running socks buyer’s guide make a great choice.
If applicable to you, wear a high-impact sports bra
Most women are going to need a good sports bra to hold everything in place when they run.
Look for sports bras marketed as being for ‘high-impact‘ activities, and designed for sports including running, to ensure they have enough support to cope with the movement of running workouts.
Wear comfortable clothing made of moisture-wicking fabrics
While you can get away with running in any t-shirt and comfortable shorts or leggings for your first few runs, you’ll be more comfortable and enjoy running more if you wear clothing that will wick sweat away from your body.
This will help you keep cool and dry as you run, and reduce issues such as chafing.
A windproof or waterproof jacket is also important for running in cooler, wet and windy weather.
The Nike Running men’s and women’s running apparel collection includes a range of tees, shorts, tights and jackets to help you gear up for running.
2. Find a suitable place to run
One of the great things about running is that it’s generally easy to find somewhere to run, especially for new runners who are not planning to run very far initially.
Ideally, you should look for somewhere that has little to no traffic, where you feel safe and comfortable.
In order of our preference, these are the best types of places for beginner runners to run:
- Local parks with paved or gravel paths
- Footpaths, bike paths or riverside trails that are open to only pedestrians and cyclists
- Off-road trails
- Wide pavements with few road crossings, traffic or intersections
- On a treadmill
Here are a few tips to find good places to run near you:
Ask other runners for suggestions
If you know people who run then the best way to find good places to run is to ask them!
Also check out our guide about how to find running trails and routes to run on.
Get Strava for help with route planning
Download the Strava app on your phone.
Strava shows running ‘hot spots’, routes and segments that you can explore on a map and find some popular places to run where other runners have tracked their previous runs.
The Strava app is also helpful to have as you can use it to track your runs, if you carry your phone with you (or use the connected Apple Watch Strava app).
Use google maps to research new routes and areas
Look on google maps and select the square in the bottom left of the screen (that will typically say ‘terrain’ or ‘satellite’). From there you can select ‘biking’ and this will highlight bike routes.
Not all bike routes are for pedestrians as some are bike paths on roads with vehicles rather than pavements with pedestrians, but it will show you routes that you can check out to see if they’re suitable for running on.
Generally, those marked as ‘trails’ are on or next to pedestrian-friendly paths.
3. Set a running goal to work towards
Starting a new running routine can be unnecessarily hard if you don’t set a goal to work towards.
Setting a goal gives you a clear focus and target to aim for as you start running.
How about running your first 5k?
One of the most popular, and highly achievable goals for beginner runners, is to build up to running a 5k.
You can do this on your own by tracking your route, time and distance using a running watch or phone app, or by signing up for one of your local 5k fun runs so you have a target race day to train for.
5k stands for 5 kilometers, which works out to 3.3 miles. It is also the same as the 5000m distance you will see runners race in the Olympics and other athletic competitions.
It is realistic for most new runners to go from doing no running to being able to run a 5k, non-stop, within 9 weeks. Yes, really!
This is where our Couch To 5k Training Plan comes in. The plan is a weekly running schedule that’s simple and easy to follow, with specific workouts for you to do each week, to build up to completing a 5k in one go.
This running program uses what’s commonly referred to as the ‘run walk method’, which has you doing run-walk intervals, meaning you start off with brisk walking breaks between short periods of running, gradually increasing the amount of running you do in one go.
Doing this run-walk method allows you to keep each workout achievable and manageable, while working up to longer distances and building your fitness, strength and endurance each week.
It’s also important to follow a 5k training plan that builds up your weekly mileage to longer distances and duration gradually, with rest days in between.
This approach helps you stay injury free by not over-training and allowing your body to recover between runs.
4. Consult your doctor
If you feel it’s necessary, consult your doctor before you start running (or any new exercise habit).
Tips to help you get started with running
In addition to the advice above and following a suitable plan like our Couch to 5k training plan, these tips will help you get the most out of your running workouts.
Pace yourself so you can go the distance
A 5k run is what’s known as endurance running. One of the most important things to have in mind when you’re running is to pace yourself!
Both Helen (Trail & Kale’s co-founder) and I started running in our mid-twenties.
Before then, Helen had believed she ‘wasn’t a runner’ and that she was just not built for, or capable of running apart from when trying to catch a bus.
She commented that she didn’t know how people we knew could just go out the door a run a half marathon when she felt she couldn’t even run a mile!
Aside from not having the encouragement or belief in herself, a big reason Helen believed she could not run is that whenever she tried, she would run too fast, get out of breath and hot, and have to stop or have walk breaks to catch her breath.
I bet that sounds familiar, too.
Well, learning to pace yourself by running at an easy pace and ensuring you START SLOW is key to build endurance and the ability to KEEP running more than ten or twenty seconds at a time.
I’ll let you into a little secret: the first 5-6 minutes of EVERY run are hard work.
Even if you run at an easy pace and conserve energy when you start your run, it takes your muscle groups and respiratory system a while to warm up, so you need to get yourself past those first few minutes to start feeling more comfortable.
By the way – when I say ‘easy pace’, it helps to think of it as a ‘conversational pace’. That is, a pace at which you could hold a modest conversation as you run.
This will probably feel very slow to you at first, but your speed will increase over a few weeks of training.
Here are some tips on how to breathe while running, which is a useful read for new runners and experienced runners alike.
Remember this when you go out for a training run and it feels really challenging initially: it will get better!
This is why beginner runners training plans like our Couch to 5k plan are so helpful when you’re learning to run, because they are the perfect beginner’s guide to pacing yourself as you gradually increase duration and distance, with appropriate walk breaks planned in between periods of running.
Run with proper running form
Thinking about having good running form as you run will help you become a more efficient runner and reduce your likelihood of getting running overuse injuries. Having good form will also help you run faster.
Your form includes everything from your overall posture while you run and your running cadence (how many times your feet hit the ground in a minute), to how your foot strikes the ground relative to the position of your body.
If your foot hits the ground too far ahead of your body, then this is referred to as ‘heel striking’ and can make you more prone to getting running injuries such as shin splints.
To learn more about what this means and how to achieve good form, read our guide to proper running form, which is full of tips to help you.
Run with a friend or group
If you think you might struggle to stay motivated as you start out on your running journey then arranging to run with a friend, or joining a local running club or group is a great way to commit to doing it regularly.
It’s also a fun and social way to make new friends, as well as learn about new routes, races and gear from other new and more experienced runners.
Stretch before and after
It’s normal for your muscles to be a little sore the day after a run, or even two days afterwards, when you’re using your body in new ways! However, stretching can really help reduce post-workout soreness.
To help you warm up before a run, and recover properly afterwards (which will reduce soreness and your likelihood of experiencing running injuries), ensure you spend 5 minutes before, and 5 minutes after, doing some quality stretching.
Dynamic stretches are moving stretches you can do as part of your warm up. Static stretches are stationary stretches to do after you’ve finished your run.
Read our guide to the best running stretches for a list of suitable stretches and watch the video below for a quick overview of how to do each stretch.
Know when to drink water
It is always sensible to have a bottle of drinking water with you when you run.
When you’re new to running and still building up distance using the run walk method suggested in our running program then you may be able to keep the water in your home or car and plan to pass it frequently in case you need to stop and take a sip.
If you’re running less than a 10k distance I would not encourage you to drink sports drinks, before, during or afterwards – especially if one of your goals is weight loss.
The exception to this is unless you’re running in extremely hot conditions… but then I would suggest you consider heading outside at a cooler time of day, or indoors on a treadmill while it’s that hot outside.
The typical sports drink has a lot of calories in it. From a nutritional and hydration perspective, your body should not need you to take on any of the sugars that sports drinks offer, if you’re heading out for less than an hour at a time.
What to eat before a run
When it comes to food, a good rule to have in mind is that for runs of less than an hour, I generally do not consider it to be necessary to eat before you run.
In fact, it’s usually best to ensure the last time you ate was at least an hour, if not two hours before you plan to run. This will allow you enough time to digest what you ate, use the bathroom and reduce the chance of you feeling too ‘full’ or even sick as you run.
If you’re planning to run in the early morning or for your lunch break then personally I would wait to eat until afterwards, assuming it will take less than an hour. This includes all of the running workouts in our Couch to 5k training program.
If you still feel like you need some food before you run, then the best thing to eat is something light, no more than 45 minutes before going for your run.
My personal favorite pre-run snack to have in these situations is half a banana.
Try different types of running
You don’t just have to run on pavement or roads. Some other types of running you may enjoy or consider to mix up your training include track, and my personal favorite – trail running.
Trail running is essentially off-road running, and can take you to explore some beautiful and wild places you never knew existed!
Read over to our beginner’s guide to trail running to learn more about what makes this version of the sport so great.
Remember cross training is important, too
As a beginner runner, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is running too much while you’re still building endurance.
To build strength and aerobic fitness while avoiding injury from doing too much, too soon, you can cross-train on your days off.
Cross training can include everything from core workouts and yoga to other activities on cardio machines in the gym, such as the stationary bike, elliptical trainer or rowing machine.
Learn more about the importance of cross-training for runners.
Try our Couch To 5k Training Plan
Now you’ve read this beginner runners guide, head over to our Couch to 5k training plan for our simple weekly running program that will get you running a 5k in 8 weeks (or less)!